The Highline Trail Loop (aka the Native Lake Loop) has got to be one of my favorite running routes in Leadville. I ran it last Sunday as my final long run before the marathon. It's a relatively easy loop, all things considered, but still provides a solid workout with plenty of opportunities to enjoy some breathtaking scenery. The Highline Trail feels much more remote than its more heavily traveled neighbor, the Colorado Trail. There are no thru-hikers, no crowds of weekenders out to climb a 14er, and I rarely run into anyone who's training for the 100 until I hit Sugarloaf. Course familiarity is certainly a plus, but I would strongly encourage folks to get off the 100 course and explore some of the other alternatives around Leadville. They will not disappoint.
|The 17.75 mile (3,500 ft vertical) version of the loop. It's easy to tack on more miles if you want.|
|The backdrop for the first climb.|
The first climb is one of my favorite climbs of all time. It gently switchbacks up a very steep slope, crisscrossing a stream until it reaches the top of the ridge. It's all runnable, and very dramatic, which makes you feel like a rock star. Snow can be an issue here because it's a north-facing slope and the whole north Mt. Massive area pretty much acts as a giant refrigerator. However, the drifts can usually be avoided with short detours into the trees. They generally last until July.
|This constitutes a "flat" Leadville run. The little bump at mile 8 is probably the toughest uphill.|
The top of the ridge is what makes this route so special. You get a very unique view of Mt. Massive with the surrounding peaks stretching all along the horizon. My wife and I joke that if we ever decide to leave Leadville we have to make the decision while standing on top of this ridge and experiencing the spectacular view. It would make the decision very difficult! It's amazing to think this is just a short drive/run from my house. Inspiring.
The descent down to Native Lake is beautiful, with Mt. Massive making an imposing backdrop. I generally stop here for a snack break and enjoy the view.
The trail peters out at a small beaver dam near the lake. Just wade across the stream and pick up the trail again in the adjacent meadow. Several stream crossings and a short climb later you reach another lake. If you'd like to try the Nolans 14 traverse, just proceed up the ridge to the top of Mt. Massive and continue bagging 14ers for another 100 miles or so. If you're slightly less ambitious, enjoy the rolling downhill-- past the remains of an old logging camp-- back to the Colorado Trail above the Fish Hatchery. Bomb down the single track to Rock Creek (stopping to refill water along the way at one of the many stream crossings) and continue following the Colorado Trail up to the jeep road at the top of Sugarloaf, where you'll intersect the LT100 course. Consider it an alternate-- far more scenic-- version of the Powerlines climb. From here you can take the course back to the beginning (dodging mountain bikers along the way) or take the slightly shorter/steeper Colorado Trail down to Hagerman Road.
A longer version of the route (~22 miles) with about 1,000 ft more vertical would be to start/finish at the Fish Hatchery.
This run always rejuvenates me. This year I set a healthy 17 minute PR on it. But more importantly, it feeds the soul. Run it, if you get the chance.